By BECKY KISER
Because it already has a face covering ordinance in place, the city of Hays will not be affected by Gov. Laura Kelly's new mask mandate. It takes effect Wednesday, Nov. 25 in counties that don’t yet have their own mask mandates, including Ellis County.
City Manager Toby Dougherty and City Attorney John Bird addressed the new executive order during Thursday's city commission work session.
"From the city's standpoint, we are exempt," said Dougherty, "because you guys have adopted a mask ordinance that is in place. So therefore, it doesn't really apply to us.
"I wanted to make sure you are aware of that," he told commissioners, "in case you're getting questions about what Executive Order 2068 means to us. Essentially, it means nothing to us because you have an order in place."
Gov. Kelly issued a new mask mandate Wednesday after the state again reported another record seven-day increase in new cases.
State law allows Kansas counties to opt out of such an order, and most did when Kelly issued a similar order in July. But now the state's seven-day average for new coronavirus cases is nine times higher than when the first order took effect.
Hays Mayor Sean Musil asked Dougherty how the city would be affected if Ellis County initiates a face mask resolution.
"If the county would choose to put something into place or to comply with E.O. 2068, the commission could choose to leave our ordinance in place, and inside the city limits we would operate under that," Dougherty answered.
"Or the city commission could choose to repeal your mask ordinance and then operate under the countywide restrictions or possibly the statewide restrictions," he added.
"I think there should be consideration if the county does do something," said Vice-Mayor Sandy Jacobs. "I would not be in favor of ending ours without the county going ahead.
"I also want to be sure how they're going to start and finish, whatever they decide to do.
"With ours, we have a metric in place for when it will end," she said, "if we don't act before that in some other fashion."
Mayor Musil wants to work together with the county to create a single ordinance "but I don't know if that will ever happen."
Bird talked with County Counselor Bill Jeter Thursday about possible coordination of ordinances.
The Ellis County Commission does not have another regular meeting scheduled prior to Nov. 25.
"If the county doesn't do anything, then the order just comes into effect in Ellis County, or any county that doesn't take any action," Bird said.
"So (doing nothing) is a possibility, or they can opt out. It doesn't affect the city either way."
If county commissioners do adopt a face mask resolution, "their resolution, if it were more stringent than ours, would take precedence because their health officer (Jason Kennedy) would have to advise them to do that," Bird explained. "But I don't think that's likely."
The Hays ordinance was enacted July 23, extended by the city commission Oct. 2 and will be lifted if the seven-day average of new coronavirus cases is at five or below for 14 consecutive days — or if the statewide emergency declaration is lifted.
Gov. Kelly's order requires people to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces and in public spaces outdoors where social distancing of at least six feet is not possible.
That's the same as the Hays ordinance, although there are eight exemptions locally.
Dougherty noted citations are not part of the governor's order, contrary to the city's ordinance which allows Hays police officers to issue a ticket with a fine.
Musil knows there's lots of debate whether wearing face masks helps protect people from contracting COVID-19.
"I would encourage people to contact Hays High School, the school district, or TMP-Marian, because they've got a lot of stats that prove masks work when worn properly, along with handwashing and social distancing, which we've been begging people to do for months," Musil said.